By Staff Writer
Therapists rely on compassion to help individuals overcome problems. They offer a non-judgmental ear, complete evaluations, and prescribe non-pharmaceutical treatments. Due to the nature of these job responsibilities, empathetic individuals who want to help others often succeed as therapists.
The job outlook for therapists looks promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), marriage and family therapists earned a median annual salary of $49,610 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for these professionals to grow 22% between 2018 and 2028. The BLS also offers data for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors. These counselors earned a median annual salary of $46,240 in 2019. The BLS projects jobs for these counselors to grow 22% between 2018 and 2028.
Becoming a therapist takes time. To practice, therapists must earn a master's degree and complete clinical hours before earning a license. Given this commitment, individuals should learn as much as they can about the profession before enrolling in a program.
Read on to learn how to become a therapist.
Therapists work with clients on a one-on-one basis or in group settings. They often speak with individuals in person, although some therapists host video conferences with their clients. Certain therapists help individuals enhance their relationships with family members or partners, while others focus on helping people overcome addictions or anger issues.
Therapists do not prescribe medication. They can prescribe other treatments, like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy, for clients with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Therapists typically work full time, although they may work part time in some cases. They often perform duties during normal business hours, but certain therapists work during the evening to accommodate more clients. Occasionally, therapists may need to remain on call for emergency phone calls or sessions with their clients.
A common place for therapists to find employment is within a hospital or private practice setting. These professionals can work as self-employed individuals and set their own schedules by cultivating their own client base.
Therapists can work with any age demographic by earning a specialization. For example, some therapists only counsel children, while others exclusively work with adults suffering from trauma. Therapists can even work with convicted felons in institutionalized settings.
Helping their client make healthy future decisions is just one of the ways therapists help individuals or groups. Therapists create a safe space for individuals to share personal struggles and empower them to make healthy choices. They also connect their patients with resources such as support group therapy or inpatient rehab.
Prospective therapists, like yourself, will require strong organizational skills and a commitment to patient confidentiality. Therapists keep detailed records of sessions and take measures to keep these records private from the public.
Typically, therapists refrain from offering opinion-based advice to their clients. Instead, they work with them to develop strategies to alter their behavior to the desired state and deal with hard situations. Therapists must abide by a code of ethics to keep their licenses and remain effective in their practice.
During a session, therapists take notes and actively listen to their clients. These tasks require intense concentration and the ability to quickly process information and respond accordingly. By asking introspective questions to their clients, therapists encourage their patients to reach conclusions independently, which supports self-esteem and valuing one’s opinions.
Since many therapists work in private practice, they often take on the role of a small business owner. As self-employed professionals, they typically conduct their own marketing efforts and perform basic accounting measures. To avoid these extra duties, some therapists seek employment at hospitals or rehabilitation facilities.
Being a prospective therapy student, you can expect to look forward to earning your degrees thanks to the field's positive job outlook, rewarding pay, and ongoing support in your community’s mental health. Job outlook and pay depend on which area you decide to specialize in. Below are potential career pathways you can choose as a counselor and what compensations to expect.
Salaries and job responsibilities can vary. Therapists can increase their earning potential and job opportunities by earning a doctorate. Professionals with a doctorate often charge higher rates. Geographical location serves as another factor that influences salary. For example, therapists located in a large coastal city often charge more per hour than therapists located in a small town in the Midwest.
Experience also influences job opportunity and salary. Seasoned professionals often qualify for higher-paying leadership roles for organizations like hospitals. Self-employed therapists with many years of experience tend to cultivate a large client base, so they can eventually charge higher rates.
Earning additional certifications and licenses can also expand career opportunities and increase earnings. Professional organizations like the National Board for Certified Counselors offer educational resources and certificates to members.
If you’re interested in increasing your income as a therapist, there are many ways to go about it. Among them are specializing in a field of study or earning higher degrees. We’ve provided a list for you to help increase your salary as a therapist for more insight.
Becoming a therapist takes several years. To avoid the need to switch majors or go back to school to earn a different degree, you should consider whether you truly want to complete all the requirements before enrolling in a program.
Below are four basic steps that, as a professional in the field, you must complete before you can practice therapy.
Earning a bachelor's degree in a therapy-related field is the first step to becoming a therapist. You should only consider schools that hold regional accreditation, as other schools offering master's degrees do not accept bachelor's degrees from unaccredited schools. When pursuing your bachelor’s, consider programs such as psychology, sociology, or counseling. You can also read through course descriptions to ensure the curriculum aligns with your desired outcomes and career goals.
You should consider attending a school based in the state where you want to practice. Many colleges and universities will tailor their programs to fit specific state licensing requirements. However, some states participate in reciprocity agreements, meaning professionals do not need to retake licensing examinations if they move to a different state.
Some states allow professionals with a bachelor's in therapy to practice under the supervision of a licensed therapist with a master's degree. As such, prospective therapists can receive on-the-job training while working toward their master's degree. Additionally, many professional organizations offer free webinars for members and can help you connect with and learn from other professionals.
Bachelor's programs in therapy require supervised clinical work. To practice without supervision in any state, future therapists must complete anywhere from 2,000-4,000 supervised clinical hours. During your clinical studies, you may apply your new knowledge in a real-world setting with actual clients. Your clinical supervisor offers feedback and helps decide your grade upon completion. Even if you are attending school remotely, you must complete clinical requirements in an in-person setting. However, if you live far from their college, you can typically earn clinical hours in your own community.
Getting your license is the final step to becoming a therapist. Each state sets its own requirements for licensure, and schools typically align their curriculum to one specific state's requirement. Before taking the licensing exam, you must complete approximately two years of supervised experience.
All states require you to take a licensing exam. Some states offer their own version, but many accept the Association of Social Work Boards Clinical Examination or the Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards Exam.
The length of time it takes to become a therapist depends on which degrees you wish to pursue. A bachelor’s degree can take you three to five years to complete, typically four years. A master’s degree can take about two years to finish, and a Ph.D. can take around eight years before you graduate. Added together, if you wish to become a therapist with a doctorate degree, it could take you 13 years to finish school.
The amount that therapists get paid depends on the area they decide to work in and the degrees they obtain. A psychologist who obtains their doctorate earns a median annual salary of $82,180, according to the BLS. A school and career counselor with a master’s degree earns a median annual salary of $58,120, and marriage and family therapists with a master’s degree earn a median annual salary of $51,340. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors with bachelor’s degrees earn a median annual salary of $47,660.
While you’re studying to become a therapist, you’ll have to study a range of topics that focus on both individual and group well-being, but have a heavy focus on research as well. Some classes you will take as a student include child psychology, adolescent psychology, research methods, abnormal psychology, clinical psychology, and history of psychology. You can take more classes in a particular area of study if you wish to pursue a specific concentration.
While many positions as a therapist will require you to have your Ph.D., such as becoming a psychologist, many jobs do not. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor positions typically only require that you have a bachelor’s degree. If you want to become a marriage or family counselor, you'll need to obtain your bachelor’s and your master’s degrees. Keep in mind that having a Ph.D. could help you achieve a higher income as well.
To become a therapist, you must complete a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. Some therapists also earn a doctorate. On average, undergraduate therapy programs take four years to complete. A master's degree takes two years, while a doctorate requires four years.
Timelines vary based on enrollment status and credit requirements, but professionals who want to earn the most advanced degree in the field should plan on spending 10 years in school. You can start practicing without supervision after earning your master's degree.
If you want to complete your degrees quickly, consider online and accelerated options. Accelerated programs allow you to enroll in more credits per semester or quarter and take shorter breaks. If you need to work full time during your studies, you can enroll part time. Some schools set time limits on how long you can take to complete your degrees.
Many schools design online programs with busy working professionals in mind. Synchronous online courses feature set class times. If you’re enrolled in asynchronous online courses, you do not need to attend classes at specific times.
All master's degrees in therapy require clinical experiences. During clinical hours, you will engage in supervised interactions with clients. You can also pursue experience through an internship. Some internships will even pay a salary.
Due to the clinical requirement, master's programs typically do not require a capstone or thesis. Doctoral students typically complete a dissertation. Upon graduation, you can submit your dissertations to scholarly journals for publication.
Each college and university creates its own curriculum. Some programs allow you to choose a specialization or concentration. However, due to licensure requirements, many programs feature similar courses. The following are a few of the courses you can expect to take while studying to become a therapist.
Therapists often specialize in their practice so they can offer high-quality help to their patients. To cultivate expertise, learners can select a concentration to pursue during their studies.
Succeeding as a therapist requires both hard and soft skills. Soft skills tend to come more naturally to certain individuals than others, but anyone can learn to refine these skills with practice. Useful soft skills for therapists include active listening, communication, and analytical skills. These skills allow therapists to interact with patients effectively and make proper recommendations.
Hard skills tend to be more quantifiable than soft skills. One hard skill therapists must possess includes record-keeping, as they must take detailed notes in a particular format for each patient. Therapists must also know the names of mental ailments and treatments.
Most therapy programs teach you the skills they need to thrive in the practice. However, all therapists spend their entire career refining their skills and cultivating new information through on-the-job experience.
Online therapists need strong technical skills, as they rely on computer software to video chat with clients. Therapists often use software to automate activities in their business. For example, certain software can allow patients to book their own appointments and pay their bills online.
Some therapists take notes during a client session with pen and paper. However, they must transcribe these notes to a digital platform to protect patient information. Therapists must also learn how to back up their patient notes to prevent data loss.
Private practice therapists may need additional skills. Since these professionals run small businesses, they must understand basic accounting and marketing to ensure their business succeeds. Self-employed therapists can also hire employees or contract workers to complete these tasks so they can focus on their practice.
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